The Cheese And Wine Of La Mancha Spain
La Mancha has a long history of making sheeps milk cheese, with evidence going as far back as the bronze age. Its even mentioned in Cervantes Don Quixote!
Today, the area is home to artisanal manchego producers as well as large industrial factories. While both produce their own version of Spains most famous cheese, theres a key difference for consumers: industrial producers use pasteurized milk, whereas the artisan producers use raw milk.
In addition to Manchego, La Mancha is known for its wines and saffron. In fact, its the largest delimited wine region in Europe, with more than 469,000 acres of vineyard more than all of Australia.
The La Mancha wine region is best known for Tempranillo , Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, although there are 25 grapes permitted under the La Mancha DO laws.
Tempranillo grapes on the vine
In the spirit of pairing food and drink from local regions, as has been done for centuries, manchego pairs well with different wines from the region.
Semi-curado and curado should go nicely with the fruitier of the La Mancha reds, such as Tempranillo or Merlot.
For whites, choose a Verdejo for a local companion, or a white rioja for a regional adjacent choice. For more mature manchego , spicier reds such as regional Syrah, or Rioja from up north should work.
Where Can I Buy Good Quality Cured Manchego Cheese At A Fair Price
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If you have ever thought about buying cured Manchego cheese for your own consumption, for a family event or to share with friends, you must have asked yourself which cheese to buy and why you should buy cured Manchego cheese at Artesanos Lácteos.
Bonus: Butter From Whey
Making Butter from Whey:
Because higher fat cheese is so much more likely to release butterfat when cutting I always save the whey in sanitized buckets and allow them to sit cool overnight.
The next morning I skim the butterfat and make butter from it by then the culture has given me a nice tangy cultured butter.
From the batch photographed here I made a nice 1 pound ball of butter.
Manchago is the Most Recognized Cheese from Spain
Manchego was traditionally made from native sheep milk pastured on the high central Plateau of Spain.
It’s probably the single most known cheese coming out of Spain .
I often ask my workshop attendees to name for me, 3 Spanish cheeses and that almost always ends at Manchego.
Manchego comes from an area that is so hot and dry much of the year, that only this special breed of sheep can coax the nutrition from the dry grasses.
Not surprisingly the breed of sheep used to make the cheese takes its name from the land as ‘Manchego’.
It was the Muslim community who inhabited the land from the eighth through the eleventh centuries and dubbed it region Manya, which meant “land without waterâ.
If visiting Spain you will also find many other cheeses similar to Manchego, such as Zamarona , as well as the many Manchego-like cheeses I see made from ewes milk but outside the classified Manchego region. They all show the typical zig-zag markings of the traditional plaited ‘Esparto’ grass forms, a well expected signature for this style of cheese.
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Can You Substitute Manchego For Parmesan
Parmesan is one of the most popular cheeses in the world and is used widely thanks to its sharp, complex flavors which are often fruity or nutty to taste. It is actually often referred to as The King of Cheeses, such is the recurring popularity.
While Parmesan has an iconic taste and texture, and true parmesan is a closely monitored and controlled product there are inferior versions that may taste bitter or not be produced using traditional methods.
In the event youre unable to get your hands on a good quality parmesan, an alternative cheese may be able to take its place.
Manchego is another cheese with a complex, nutty flavor and a comparable texture that can be shaved in a similar way to parmesan due to its hardness.
This makes Manchego a suitable substitute for parmesan, but be aware that manchego is a little less salty than parmesan and may be slightly milder or less sharp, so you may have to take this into account when balancing other flavors and ingredients to account for this substitution.
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Types Of Manchego Cheese
Manchego cheese is divided into categories that are defined by the length of curing time. Fresh cheese, the youngest, is cured for no more than two weeks. Semi-cured is matured for between three weeks and three months, and has a firmer, but still supple texture. Cured is aged for a minimum of six months and has a mild nutty flavour and a slightly crumbly texture. Old Manchego is aged for at least one year and has a crumbly texture and an intense, spicy flavour.
How Is Manchego Cheese Produced
Manchego cheese is made by curdling sheep’s milk with calf’s rennet and gently cutting the curd and pressing it by hand into cylindrical moulds. The moulds themselves are engraved with a pattern that gives the Manchego rind its unique texture, replicating the marks formed by the woven leaves of the grass baskets in which Manchego cheeses were traditionally made.
The moulds are pressed and the resulting wheels of cheese are placed in brine, after which they are transferred to natural maturing caves where they spend between one month and two years. Brushing the cheese with olive oil helps to form the natural rind and to colour the outside of the cheese.
Can You Eat The Rind Of Manchego Cheese
Nope! Unlike many cheeses, the rind of Manchego is not edible.
These days, a lot of Manchego has an inedible rind that uses plasti coat to seal it during the maturation process. While plasti-coat isnt harmful, its not digestible either.
Even for manchegos that dont use plast-coat, generally speaking you want to avoid the rind. It wont hurt you, but it wont be delicious, either.
For hard cheeses such as Manchego, the rind is the wall between the cheeses paste and the world outside. And it serves as a barrier for the entire maturation period.
So while the cheese sits on a shelf in an aging cave for months or a year, the rind is getting exposed to all the elements in the cave.
More or less it can just get crusty and hard, and generally a bit groadie.
What Is Manchego Cheese
Manchego is a Spanish sheeps milk cheese hailing from La Mancha in central Spain, an arid and sweltering plateau southeast of Toledo that stretches through parts of Toledo, Cuenca, and Albacete provinces, and most of Ciudad Real province.
Toledo, Spains Old Town Skyline.
Its a firm and springy cheese thats fairly mild, and it gets harder, drier, spicier and more crumbly as it ages.
And it comes from an area of Spain with a rich culinary heritage. Despite being dry and high , La Mancha actually produces some of Spains most notable culinary gems.
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Why The Pattern In The Rind
A whole manchego cheese is encased in a distinctive patterned rind, or corteza, which dates from the way the cheese was made in years gone by.
The cheesemaker would pour the curds into a mould made from plaited esparto grass the pleita which left a natural zig-zag imprint on the cheese itself. Then a wooden board would be placed top and bottom of the wheel of cheese. Its distinctive pattern would let the liquid whey drain out as the cheese was pressed and matured.
The esparto moulds are long gone, but the traditional patterns remain. But beware lots of other non-Manchego dairies use exactly the same zig-zags in their cheeses too. The pattern does not make it manchego!
Substitutes For Manchego Cheese
If you cant find Manchego, there are a number of substitutes that could work, depending on what youre using it for.
- Tomme de Brebis is a firm French Sheeps milk cheese thats fairly similar.
- Zamorano is another firm Spanish cheese made from sheeps milk with a nutty flavor
- Pecorino Romano is a fairly classic substitute, especially for Manchego Veijo. Its stronger in flavor so use less than what your recipe calls for if Manchego is listed.
- Parmigiano-Reggiano is another substitute similar to Pecorino Romano, but even stronger.
- Monterey Jack is a good substitute for semi-curado, for cooking and melting. Dry Monterey Jack is closer to a Manchego Curado, but without the nuttiness.
- Chihuahua, like Monterey Jack, is a good substitute for semi-curado.
- Muenster is another good substitute for semi-curado.
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Can You Eat The Rind
If its genuine Manchego, probably yes. Check first it should say somewhere on the label corteza comestible or corteza natural if its edible . I usually cut the rind off, as for me it doesnt add anything to the taste.
Most non-Manchego hard cheeses will have plastic rinds which you definitely shouldnt eat. All Spanish cheeses should have the comestible/no comestible warning somewhere, but its often buried in the small print.
About The Taste Of Manchego Similarities Alternatives
Manchego cheese has a strong flavor, slightly acidic, and with a spicy component that grows as the maturation time elongates. Manchego Añejo shares many organoleptic characteristics with Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano and Pecorino. The taste of Monterey Jack is also similar enough to Manchego to be a decent substitute, even if its made with cow milk. Finally, Gouda is a cheese that is made in a similar way to Spanish Manchego, except that it comes from cow milk instead of sheep, and that the maturation time in Gouda is shorter.
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Are Pecorino And Manchego Similar
Pecorino is another popular cheese that may be a little less well known than parmesan, but has a very storied history and has its own unique flavor.
Pecorino is believed to have originated from Roman cuisine, which means it will give you a real taste of history.
The production process and name of this cheese are protected by EU law to ensure that its quality and identity are protected and its prestige remains intact.
This cheese has a very unique flavor that changes as it ages, being milkier when fresher and nuttier and more complex when aged.
Pecorino is made using sheeps milk, which is the same raw ingredient as manchego. While they are similar in this respect and the flavors may be comparable, there are key differences between these cheeses that become more apparent as they age. However, a nutty flavor and hard texture do make them similar to the inexperienced.
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How To Serve Manchego Cheese
In Spain, youll often find manchego served on a tapas plate in thinly sliced triangles. And theres certainly nothing wrong with doing the same!
If going for a tapas board, I recommend using a Manchego curado. Serve it up with quince or chutney, green olives, fresh figs, sundried tomatoes, chorizo, jamon iberico, honey, and nuts, such as marcona almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts.
For drinks, pair with crisp and fruity sparkling wines like Cava, Trento or Prosecco, Spanish wines like Rioja, Tempranillo, and Verdejo.
Generally, opt for crisper and fruitier for younger manchego, and spicier and more full-bodied for older Manchego.
Sherry is also a classic Manchego pairing, and some beers also work.
For beer, choose lighter ales with a bit of bitterness for younger Manchegos and get darker and maltier as the cheese matures .
- Semi-curado is good for cooking, for lunch
- Curado is great for a cheese board or tapas
- Veijo is good for crumbling over pasta, salad, etc
Manchego Cheese With Do
Manchego cheese, with its name, tells us where it comes from, from a tradition rooted in the Castilian-La Mancha countryside and the land of La Mancha. Manchego cheese has a long tradition and a reputation that has been proven for centuries. Its history is that of a cheese protected by a Designation of Origin , made from milk from Manchego sheep, reared and fed in the protected territory.
This cheese is known worldwide mainly because of the many references Cervantes makes to it in Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and because it is present on every Spanish cheese shelf in international supermarkets. It is, if not the oldest in its production, one of the oldest, as archaeological remains from the Bronze Age have been found that prove the production of this cheese. There are many variants of this cheese that come from the La Mancha region that are not under the D.O. but are of equally high quality.
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Manchego Cheese And Special Dietary Needs
- Manchego cheese can be vegetarian, as long as it hasnt been curdled with animal rennet but with artificial curdling elements.
- Manchego cheese is not vegan, because its made with sheep milk.
- Manchego cheese is keto, specially the Curado one, as long as you dont abuse it, because its levels of lactose are very low.
- Lactose-intolerants can eat Spanish manchego cheese with moderation, the more matured the better because the lactose content diminishes with maturation.
- Pregnant women can eat manchego cheese as long as its made with pasteurized milk instead of raw milk.
- Manchego cheese is gluten-free.
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Placa De Caseina A Cheese Watermark
Each wheel of manchego cheese has a kind of circular watermark in the rind, called the placa de caseína. It will say DOP Queso Manchego and have a serial number. Its put in when the cheese is made, so its really difficult to cheat! Look at the bottom of the cheese and youll see it through the translucent rind.
placa de caseínaplaca de caseína
If youre only buying a pre-wrapped slice, rather than a whole cheese, youll see a portion of the placa on the bottom, and the queso manchego label will have a green bar on it.
OK, so now you know youre buying the genuine article. But were not quite done yet!
There are three classes of queso manchego to choose between: Semi-Curado, Curado and Viejo. This is all about the length of time the cheese has matured. The longer it takes, the more intense the flavour .
Other Types Of Cured Cheese
At Artesanos Lácteos you can also find other types of cured cheese. They are not made from Manchega sheep milk, so you will not find the DO seal.
Nevertheless, they are made with sheep milk and in some cases with mixed milk . The latter are exquisite cheeses where you can appreciate the different aromatic and taste tones offered by the different types of milk combined in a single cheese with extraordinary flavour.
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How Does Manchego Cheese Taste
Manchego has one of the most notable and distinguished flavors of any hard cheese and is also known for its distinctive yellow appearance.
One of its most recognizable characteristics is the hatching or crossed patterns that appear on the rind of the cheese. This is created by the traditional presses that form the cheese.
Always remember that the rind of this cheese is inedible.
Instead, aim for the middle of the cheese which is the softest part of the cheese.
On first tasting, you will notice intense, zesty flavors of fruit and sometimes a nutty profile that is followed by a slightly salty taste.
These rich, complex flavors make Manchego suitable for various uses such as an accompaniment with pasta dishes or as an addition to bread and dessert dishes.
Types Of Spanish Manchego Cheese
Theres three types of Manchego cheese: Semicurado, Curado and Añejo or Viejo. And the difference between them lies on their maturation time. Manchego semicurado is cured between 1 to 3 months, depending on its size, resulting in a more flexible product, fresher taste and lighter color. Manchego curado matures during 6 to 9 months, and its the most common Manchego type. It has a particular nutty flavor and a golden color.
Finally, Manchego Viejo or Añejo is cured for 9 months to 2 years. It has a caramel-like color and a drier and scalier texture. And its taste is more intense and slightly spicy.
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